Jim Mayer wins 2019 California Steward Leader Award

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(Photo: John Guenther/CAFwd)

It was President Harry Truman who famously said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

When former California Forward CEO Jim Mayer accepts the California Steward Leader Award later this week at the 2019 California Economic Summit in Fresno, expect him to say something like he told us.

“This award should have gone to people who didn’t get paid to be stewards,” said Mayer. “That said, I am proud that the Summit has elevated the concept of stewardship aiding the public interest.”

Mayer guided California Forward for over a decade from its inception to its place as a leader in California reform. The people he worked with rarely disagreed with Mayer, but they do over whether he deserves the recognition.

Count Lenny Mendonca, the long-time co-chair of the CA Fwd Leadership Council and the current Chief Economic and Business Advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom and Director of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) among those who praise Mayer.

“If you look up the term steward leader in the dictionary, you should see Jim Mayer’s picture,” said Lenny Mendonca, “His work to restore a functional government in California and to help revitalize an economy that works for all Californians will pay dividends for years to come.”

Mayer led CA Fwd at a pivotal moment in the state’s history. In 2006, California faced a fiscal crisis, political gridlock and state and local government literally fighting each other.

“The structural problems that existed in California had been identified, and we knew the public was very interested in bipartisan reform,” he remembered. “The problem was that the special interests in the state capital were not.”

Many of the reforms were taken right to the people, who by and large, liked them. Among the many voter-approved reforms promoted by California Forward and other groups include:

  1. Citizens redistricting, which took the power of defining legislative and congressional districts from elected officials and established an independent redistricting commission
  2. The Top Two primary which gave voters to right to vote for anyone, regardless of party, in the primary
  3. Term limit reform which allowed legislators to serve all twelve years in the same legislative body
  4. The state’s rainy day fund which now boasts over $16 billion in reserves so the state can have money for essential services during economic turndowns

As government performance slowly began to improve, another challenge surfaced—one that had been growing but that needed specific attention—the vaunted “California Dream” was becoming unattainable for millions of Californians.

The birth of the California Economic Summit has helped make positive change in the state because it recognizes that California is not one single economy, but as Mayer describes, “is a tapestry of often distinct regional economies.”

The Summit’s bipartisan network of business, equity, environmental and civic organizations is unique in championing solutions that meet the triple bottom line—simultaneously growing the economy, improving environmental quality and increasing opportunity for all.

The important if not audacious attempt to restore the California Dream earned Mayer plaudits from those who have worked with him.

“Jim embodies the values of triple bottom line through and through,” said Van Ton Quinlivan, Executive Vice Chancellor Emeritus, CA Community Colleges and Executive in Residence, Institute for the Future. “He is most impressive in that he understands the reality of public and stakeholder processes where no one person owns an issue, and as complicated and frustrating as it is to wrestle with big hairy problems through that type of environment, he always conveys a sense of optimism, urgency, and collegiality

“Jim mixed his powerful observation and synthesis skill as a reporter and analyst with a deep passion for his state and his community, always driving forward, striving to do more and to do better for those who have been left behind,” said Bill Mueller, CEO of Valley Vision in Sacramento. “There was always penetrating insight and smart policy when Jim was around. A lot less talking and more doing too. We need more Jim Mayer’s today.”

“Jim has been a tremendous resource for California,” said Micah Weinberg, who succeeded Mayer as CA Fwd CEO. “He is unmatched in his ability to bring people together to tackle the state’s most pressing challenges and his knowledge of the solutions of those challenges is also unparalleled.”

Mayer’s stewardship work will continue when he’s not working on his successful olive farm in Yolo County, concentrating on social and environmental causes.

“The way he selflessly navigated these complicated and, at times, treacherous political and financial waters with firm conviction and quiet manner and always with the best interests of our state in mind is an example to follow for all people who want to improve our world,” added Mendonca.

Congratulations to Jim Mayer, California Steward Leader of the Year!


Ed Coghlan

All stories by: Ed Coghlan